The operatives were working on behalf of the CIA as well as its Saudi Arabian and Yemeni counterparts, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Saudi intelligence infiltrated al-Qaida's Yemen operation and retrieved the explosive device before it could be detonated, the newspaper said, citing officials who outlined an operation in which CIA agents tracked the device's movement and then killed suspected saboteurs with a drone attack after the device was retrieved.
Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan Tuesday said air travelers can be assured U.S. intelligence is working "day in and day out" to stop bomb plots.
Brennan, a White House expert on counter-terrorism, said measures were being taken to prevent any type of improvised explosive device from thwarting airport security procedures.
"I think people getting on a plane today should feel confident that their intelligence services are working day in and day out, to stop these IEDs from getting near a plane," he said during an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America."
"Also, I think when they go through security measures at airports, they understand why they're in place because there are terrorist groups, like al-Qaida, that continue to try to evade those security measures."
In India, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the latest thwarted bomb plot shows terrorists still try to develop ways to "kill innocent people."
"These terrorists keep trying ... to devise more perverse and terrible ways to kill innocent people, and it's a reminder as to why we have to remain vigilant at home and abroad in protecting our nation and in protecting friendly nations," Clinton said during a news conference Tuesday in New Delhi.
The plot was foiled about two weeks after intelligence assets in Saudi Arabia provided a tip, a source familiar with the operation told CNN Tuesday. "We're confident that neither the device nor the intended user of this device posed a threat to us," Brennan said.
Officials said Monday U.S. and other intelligence agencies seized a bomb similar to ones used before by al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, described by Western officials as the terror network's most dangerous affiliate.
The plot was discovered before it posed a threat any Americans, and no airplanes were at risk, a U.S. counter-terrorism official said. Police said they recovered a non-metallic explosive device, which was being analyzed by the FBI.
"Clearly our intelligence allowed us to have visibility into the existence of this device early on," Brennan said on CBS' "This Morning." "We were able to take the appropriate steps necessary to prevent its possible use against innocent Americans and others."
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